Before You Hit Publish, Week 2: It’s and Its

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I can’t NOT do it, folks.

How’s that for a double negative?

I have to start with tackling IT’S and ITS.

To begin, please accept this quote from the brilliant Lynne Truss as to how I feel on the matter:

To those who care about punctuation, a sentence such as “Thank God its Friday” (without the apostrophe) rouses feelings not only of despair but of violence. The confusion of the possessive “its” (no apostrophe) is an unequivocal sign of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian “kill” response in the average stickler.  –Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, p. 43

The truth is that this simple grammar rule stumps nearly everyone in modern-day America. Why? I believe it’s because we are so used to “it’s”–apostrophe included–that when we write “its” it just looks strange. (Other possible explanation: texting has made the apostrophe obsolete. I’ve been known to send a text without a proper apostrophe, even. It pains me.)

It’s a simple rule. I promise. (Writing this is making me uber-aware of how much we use its/it’s!)

  • Use IT’S (with apostrophe) only as a substitute for “it is” or “it has.” That’s it. PERIOD. If you read your sentence and you cannot replace the “it’s” with “it is” or “it has,” then you have the wrong “it’s.”
  • Use ITS as a possessive, the same as you would her, his, your, etc.  For example: I saw her bike. I saw your bike. I saw its bike. (In this case, anything that would own a bike probably is not an “it,” but I disgress.)

Is it complicated? I truly don’t think so. It’s simply a word we use and use and use. And like anything, once it is over thought it can become complicated.

If you’re ever puzzled, just try to replace your “its” with “it is.” If it works, it should be “it’s.” If it doesn’t, it’s “its.” (Good gracious.)

Does this make sense? Is “it’s” something you struggle with? If so, why do you think that is?

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Reading Like a Writer: This week’s recommended book is March by Geraldine Brooks. In my opinion, Brooks is a master of the English language. Her books are amazing journeys, poetically worded and researched to perfection. Brooks’ experience as a journalist makes her the ideal storyteller of historical fiction. March is my personal favorite because it stems from Little Women–but I would also highly recommend People of the Book and Year of Wonders.



11 thoughts on “Before You Hit Publish, Week 2: It’s and Its

  1. Ah, one of my pet peeves! It's so easy, why do people get confused?

    Same for "who's" and "whose". Same rule as for it's and its.

    I learned this when I was in school. Sometimes I wonder if students don't pay attention in grammar class anymore, or if they've just stopped teaching it!

  2. I can answer Lisa's question. It's not that we don't teach it; students don't care. I have been known to reduce students' grades by 10% for using its/it's and there/their/they're incorrectly and they still make the mistake. My suggestion when using word processing is to use your "control-find" tool. Type in those no-excuse words and see if you have used them correctly.

    I also loved March and everything that I have read that Brooks has written.

  3. I have no trouble with this one at all. That's only because my 10th grade English teacher held up a McDonald's cup that said "Please put litter in it's place." and said that she couldn't believe a big company like that got it wrong. So now I always go back to that memory to get it right.
    The same woman wore her pants backwards (at least once), but she knew her grammar!

  4. Amen! There are some trickier grammar rules (like using the possesive pronoun before a gerund) that are very difficult to remember… this one? Not so much. I think you're absolutely correct about texting having an impact on grammar. In my case, I must admit that I sometimes simply get lazy about proofreading… and that is a horrible excuse.

  5. My Palm Pre autocorrects "its" to "it's," to the point where sometimes I don't bother to put the apostrophe since I know it will do it for me, but every time I think, "but how do you know I don't WANT the possessive pronoun??" and I obsessively think of sentences I could be typing that start with "its."

  6. Thank you for the great service you're doing for the blogosphere. Seriously. People need to KNOW these things.

  7. Great explanation Jess! This is just a guess, but I think because possessive is "usually" 's then that's why alot get confused. It's like the exception to the rule … and you know how those go!!

    Great series!!

    {And it's a good thing I got the title to my blog right – *whew*}

  8. I am enjoying this series. Thank you for writing it. Apostrophes are so overused. I'm sure you will be arriving at "'s" soon.

    I loved Year of Wonders and People of the Book, too. Now I must check out March.

    Another little peeve of mine is the inability to underline of italicize on a blog comment. Please consider the above book titles properly ital.

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